Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Story from one weekend ago: schlep

So I decided that regardless of where it was in the country, I was going to watch Oxford in the 1st round of the FA Cup. When the draw came up as Eastbourne Borough away, it seemed almost perfect. An unusually early 12pm kick-off was the final building block of my plan. It was the pointlessness that appealed - a game a very long way away; if Oxford won nobody would would have blinked, if they lost, they would have been ultimately humiliated. I couldn't leave the game feeling satisfied, apart from, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that I had done it. The pointlessness protected it from being no one else's triumph but mine.

Having practically circumnavigated the M25 I joined the A22; almost imediately I lost Radio 5 Live in a swirl of interference just as Michael Howard was expounding his fanatical support for Liverpool, Swansea City, Welsh rugby and Folkstone Invicta. I tuned into 3 Counties Radio and warnings about traffic around the Lewes fireworks display. Lower Dicker was less eventful than it's name promised, Upper Dicker may have been a different story, but it was a couple of miles up the hill. The ecclesiastical dyslexia of Boship's Roundabout made me chuckle.

I stopped in East Grinstead to get a sandwich, two women, one in a blue mac and lime green beret, talked in some hurdy gurdy Dutch hybrid language, maybe I'd drive too far. Eventually I reached Eastbourne, Eastbourne Borough have a neat, compact ground and is "run like all non-league clubs should be" according to the radio. We were repeatedly informed of the fireworks display that night and the "top cabaret duo" Just A Chance (you suspect that one of the duo is called something like Justin Adams, the other Gary Chance). Once I was in the ground I was sold a poorly printed programme full of typos and three tickets to the half time draw. Still, everyone, including the turnstile operators hoped that I'd enjoy the game. At half time the stadium announcer apologised that the stadium clock was broken and that we should time the game "using the stopwatch on your mobile phone", blimey they think of everything.

The atmosphere was great, 3,800 fans packed the ground, 2,000 more than they'd ever attracted before. They had horns and drums, wracking up a raucous noise. Every time their strikers got over the halfway line you could hear the shrieks of people who had been to as many Borough games as I had (i.e. none). Oxford were the better team throughout, if a little un-inventive, Steve Basham's goal was quality. Then in the last minute, the Eastbourne striker, a little bundle of energy with a low centre of gravity, who was quick but generally useless was bundled over by Oxford's titanic centre back Chris Wilmott and it was a penalty. They scored and the place erupted. Despite the half hearted catcalls of displeasure, most Oxford fans, like me, enjoyed the drama of the whole thing. After all they were on a pointless jaunt themselves, and this was great entertainment. We should tank them in the replay.

1-1 was fittingly inconclusive for my pointless venture, it took two and a half uneventful hours to get back, perfect really.


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